Cabinet Orders More Air Strikes Amid Concern About an Escalation

The large-scale Israeli air strikes in Lebanon have started to strain the unity of the Israeli government, with some Cabinet ministers expressing fear that the country might be dragged into another Lebanon War.

When the Cabinet met Sunday to approve the raids, only one minister voted in opposition. By the time the Cabinet met again later in the day to endorse continuing the operation, four ministers voted in opposition and three abstained.

The government approval of further strikes came after two residents of the border town of Kiryat Shmona were killed when a rocket hit their apartment building late Sunday and set it on fire. Gabi Shimoni, 40, and Motti Bar-David, 24, were both buried Monday.

Eight other Israelis were injured in the counterattacks by forces of the Shi’ite fundamentalist Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Israeli air raids and artillery attacks on guerrilla bases throughout Lebanon continued for a second day Monday in what was described as the heaviest shelling since the 1982 Lebanon War.

Many residents of Galilee spent the day in shelters or fled southward to stay with relatives elsewhere in Israel as Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah forces fell on northern settlements.

Reports from Lebanon said some 16 people were killed in the Israeli raids, including two or three Syrian army soldiers. Over 60 Lebanese and Hezbollah gunmen were said to be injured in the air raids Sunday and Monday.

The intensive raids by Israel were taken in response to the deaths of seven Israeli soldiers in Lebanon this month. The seventh soldier, Cpl. Yonatan Boiden, 19, died of his wounds Sunday.

Another Israeli soldier apparently was killed Monday when Hezbollah guerrillas attacked a position in the security zone Israel maintains along the border in southern Lebanon. But no further details were immediately available.

Israeli planes and missile boats hit targets ranging as far afield as Lebanon’s northern port of Tripoli and including the eastern and western regions north of the security zone.

The Israeli raids were followed by Hezbollah rocket counterattacks in tit-for-tat clashes Sunday and Monday.

CHILDREN EVACUATED FROM GALILEE

Israeli villages and kibbutzim around the country invited northern towns to send their children and elderly for a few days’ vacation away from the danger zone, responding to a call by the mayor of Kiryat Shmona, Prosper Azran.

At the mayor’s request, the Jewish National Fund evacuated 500 children from the area and relocated them temporarily to JNF’s Lavi and Tzippori youth camps.

JNF has also mobilized to repair roads damaged by the rocket attacks and is launching a $1 million emergency fund-raising campaign to pay for the effort.

There was no criticism of Galilee residents who left the area as there had been of Tel Aviv residents who fled the city during the Persian Gulf War, when Iraqi Scud missiles were being fired at Israel.

Across the border in Lebanon, thousands of residents heeded warnings broadcast by the Israeli-allied South Lebanon Army to leave villages housing Hezbollah bases to avoid being hit by Israel Defense Force and SLA shelling.

In Israel, the continuing clashes brought back fears of the Lebanon War, regarded as a tragic mistake by many Israelis.

When the Cabinet met Sunday morning to approve the operation, Yossi Sarid from the dovish Meretz bloc was the only minister opposing the strikes, using the same arguments he had made to oppose the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

By Sunday night, when the Cabinet met again to approve further strikes, Meretz’ four ministers voted against continuing the operation, and three dovish Labor Party ministers abstained.

Meretz’s Knesset faction caucus issued a statement endorsing the vote of the party’s ministers, but at the same time said “it supported the need to ensure security for the northern population of Israel.”

The Knesset members also said they hoped the government “would do everything possible to avoid expansion of the fighting,” a diplomatically worded statement expressing concern that Israel might be forced to send in infantry troops.

(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv.)

NEXT STORY